"The light at the end of the tunnel has just broke open and it appears we're going to be OK," Mitch Nordmeyer said Wednesday in this north-central Iowa community of 1,100 people.
Most of the town's homes were spared from the raging Winnebago River by the sandbagging effort, but about a dozen businesses were flooded.
About 15 miles away along the Cedar River, about 100 homes in Charles City were damaged and dozens more had flooded basements after up to 8 inches of rain brought record flooding.
The river crested Wednesday at 23 feet, more than a foot higher than the record floods of 1993, Fire Chief Roy Schwickerath said.
"Everything we had sandbagged got washed out from two different directions," said Charles City Mayor James Erb.
In some instances, the makeshift berms trapped the rain.
"The sandbags were so beautifully done that when it rained the water came off our roof and backed up into our house. It was like a pool," said Margaret Carroll, who has lived near the river since 1960.
More flooding was expected downstream at Cedar Falls and Waterloo.
Rick Ebling, 44, of Greene was covered in sweat after five hours of sandbagging in 95-degree, humid conditions.
When asked why he was helping, he managed to blurt out, "I went to school here," as he tried to catch his breath.
Heavy rainfall caused flash floods that carried away trailers and stranded people on their roofs. One man was missing after his car was washed off a flooded road.
One man was swept away in his car while attempting to drive on a flooded road in Floyd County, Iowa. His car struck a bridge abutment, spun around and floated downstream backward, before it was submerged in the churning water about 20 yards from the bridge, police said.
"I could just see the roof of the car and then it went down," said witness Dave Mayer.
The car was recovered, but the driver was still missing, Trooper Mark Domino said.
Flooding struck the small towns of Manly, Plymouth, Shell Rock and Nora Springs. Evacuations were reported in Manly and Rock Falls, where five people had to be rescued.
Gov. Tom Vilsack declared four counties disaster areas.
The Iowa National Guard trucked in 40,000 sandbags from the Army Corps of Engineers, and hauled truckloads of drinking water to Rockford and Nora Springs.